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Himalaya

Day 40: Srinagar, Kashmir

Srinagar, India 
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Mr. Gulam Butt, proprietor of Clermont Houseboats through thick and thin times, runs through a list of previous guests, including Nelson Rockefeller and George Harrison.
Michael Palin - HimalayaNewspaper cuttings are displayed alongside the photos: recommendations from the Washington Post and the New York Times and a flattering inclusion, together with such high-tone places as the Regent in Hong Kong and the Lowell, New York, in Charles Michener's 'Hotels You Won't Want to Leave'. These clippings are now yellowing and curled at the edges and there is none much later than the early 90s. When the troubles in Kashmir escalated, the press reviews turned to scare stories and the only foreign visitors were journalists covering the conflict.

Mr Butt admits there were times when he was near to tears. Staff he'd known all his working life had to be laid off, and at the nadir of his fortunes the army commandeered his property and set up camp in the Garden of the Morning Breeze. Things improved briefly from 1995 to 1999 but any hope of a steady recovery is stymied by every fresh atrocity, every fresh confrontation.

I can only feel grateful to this cheerful, distracted man for keeping going, for his boats are neither functional nor cheap to run. Mine is very splendid, with elaborately carved woodwork inside and out, a carpeted sitting room with very fine crewel-work embroidery and a grand dining room with cedar panelling, chandeliers, cut glass and an oval rosewood dining table.

This evening the skies darken, the lake empties of boats and after a brief and eerie period of silence and total calm the heavens open and there's nothing to do but sit tight and watch the rain splashing in great glassy drops on the water lily beds that surround the boats.

If anything, Dal Lake is even more beautiful in the rain.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 40: Srinagar, Kashmir
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Srinagar
  • Book page no: 91

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